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Chapter Thirteen

I woke up early on the day everything changed and stared out the window at the trees moving in the wind outside. I could hear Jackie - Brian's mom - singing along with a Michael W. Smith CD she had blasting somewhere downstairs. She was in the hallway. I could hear her banging around with the washer and dryer as she sang about how awesome God is and how much he reigns and stuff. (God must get so sick of hearing this stuff. Every Christian song ever seems like it's about how much God rules and what a kick ass job he does at it. If I was God I'd be like, dude. I know. Enough already. Sing about something else. I'm just saying.)

It was funny because as much as I wasn't sure what I believed about the time machine, the day still felt like it was an important one. I rolled onto my back and took a deep breath, then got up and headed out into the hallway.

We ate breakfast and kinda lingered around the table, Brian expertly rounding questions from his mom about Meira. He apparently hadn't mentioned anything about Carl and the time machine to her because he avoided the topic like it was hot. Meira stayed focused on her plate, pushing stuff around, having barely eaten a bite of food, a nervous twinge to her eye. Her hands shook, too, I noticed, when she gave me my pills from the bottle that was tucked neatly in her pocket. I knew it was bugging her that she was gonna be delivering the message today and I found myself wondering what in hell the message could be that would be frightening her so much.

When it was around noon and sitting around the breakfast table had become more awkward than social, we got up and helped Jackie clean the dishes away, then Brian announced we were going out and that we'd be back later. "Bring some milk home with you when you come," she commanded, and she smiled, kissed her hand, and patted Brian's cheek with it, which made him flush.

At Carl's house, it was more awkward time with his mom and Pikachu, who still didn't like us much. Brian once again led the way down to the basement where the heater was still blowing its pointless stream of supposedly warm air. Carl was sitting on top of the plexiglass room, a pair of goggles on his head, biting a screw driver between his teeth and fiddling with the wires atop of the contraption. He stared down at us, his eyes magnified by the glasses. He spit out the screw driver and said, "Well hello, ya'll are back. I got the fix done." He turned and slid off the box, landing on the far side with a colossal thump.

Meira looked at her watch nervously.

Carl came 'round the machine, lifted up his goggles and shoved them up into the unruly nest of hair atop his head. "So 2018 was the year we were talking about, yes?" he said, throwing himself into the chair by the computer. I felt dizzy as he started rattling off facts about 2018, things he was reading off a word document on his computer.

I stared at the box. I should've smelled the grass, the air one last time, I thought, just in case that thing really malfunctioned and I got toasted or something. I should've said goodbye to my friends, should've called the other fellas. I should've tried to make things right with my family maybe. Called Aaron and apologized for cutting out of the party early back in December. Should've thought more about where I was going and what I'd be leaving behind in the present when I went to the future.

Brian cleared his throat, "Maybe we should show Nick how it works before we shove him in there?" he suggested.

I looked over at him.

Meira was biting her lips.

"Of course!" Carl hooted. And he leaped up from his seat. "I can't believe I didn't show you yet," he added, and he grabbed a notepad and scrawled across the top page with a blue magic marker he'd withdrawn from a mug on the table top, What year did we send Nick Carter to? And he ripped the page off. He danced to the plexiglass room and he opened the door. It creaked as the hinges swung and he put the paper on the chair in the middle of the room between the headphones ear pieces, then backed out and closed the door. He slid a latch I hadn't noticed before across the handle of the door, effectively locking it, and swung back to the table, where he pulled up a blinking/flashing program on his computer and started typing in a flurry of letters and numbers. Then, he hit the Enter button with a flourish.

All of us turned to look a the plexiglass room.

It didn't seem to be doing anything at first, but then the metal corkscrew on top started to hum - quietly at first, then louder and louder, with more and more urgency. And just as I was about to think that was all the thing did, there was a sound like deep drum beats the seemed to come from the headset and the wires leading up to the corkscrew vibrated with the beat of it. Then - and I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my very own eyes - the paper he'd laid between the headset ears started to shimmer and then to fade and then it was gone.

I felt my jaw drop because I'd seen it, but I couldn't believe that I had.

"Holy fucking crap," I whispered.

"See?" Brian said. "Time machine."

"Holy crap."

"Now we just wait for it to answer our question for us," Carl said. "Where do we send you? Well let's find out where it was that we sent you... and then send you there." He grinned and laughed maniacally, "Oh the questions that could be answered by the gift of tiiiiiiiime!" And he danced off to the table.

I could barely breathe. It was real. It was fucking real. Or else that paper had been zapped to oblivion. One of the two had happened. Which, I didn't know. Which, it didn't matter, because whatever had happened to it was what was about to happen to me.

Meira stared hungrily at the place where the page had been, a desperate look on her face.

"Meira?" I asked.

She closed her eyes and glanced down at her watch. "No," she croaked.


She took a deep breath, "Nick. I gotta go."

"What? You can't go now. I'm about to zap up to your time. Don't you wanna be here for that?"

Meira shifted her weight from foot to foot, "Yes, of course I do, but Nick..." she looked at her watch, "I can't. I don't have time. You're gonna pull me back in a minute. If you're still there, that is. Well you will be - there, I mean - at least until you make a decision..." she rambled the words all together, her voice choking up. "But I gotta tell you the message."

I reached out my hands for her shoulders. "Can't you just stay a couple more minutes?"

"I can't. Nick -- just - just please... please remember me. And.. and come for me." She stared up at me, tears started streaming down her face. "I need you and you always say you needed me, too. And I'm scared because -- because you don't right now -- and ... what if.. what if you never --" she choked on her own words. "Nick in a second I'm gonna disappear."

And then as I stared at her she began to shimmer. Much like that paper had done. I stumbled back. "What the --"

"Nick!" she cried, "Nick, you said to go back. Go back."


"That's the message -" she said, "I don't know why, but you said to go back!"

"Go back? Go back to what?"

"I don't know!" she sobbed.

"But Meira, what -- how am I supposed to go back when I dunno what I'm going back to?!" I cried.

"You didn't tell me!" she said.

"But --"

"Nick! Don't forget me!" her voice was desperate, and the hope in her eyes was desperate. But she was fading fast and her voice went first and her mostly transparent form shouted out more silent words until she'd disappeared altogether - just like the paper, just like she'd said she would. My hands were still outstretched before me, though they hung in the air aiming at nothingness. My mouth was dry.

"Meira -- ?" I whispered.

But she was really, truly gone.

There was humming behind me and I heard the door open all creaky again, but I couldn't move my eyes from the spot where she'd been standing. "What in the hell does she mean by go back?" I asked and I turned around to look at Brian and Carl. Brian looked just as traumatized as I did by her departure, his eyes wide and nervous.

"Maybe," Carl's voice echoed in the basement which, though only one of us was missing now seemed profoundly empty to me. "Maybe she meant go back," he said. He was leaning into the plexiglass door. He turned and, smirking, he held up a sheet of paper and upon it was written, in big green letters, June 2006.

"Well look at you!" Carl said, eyes wild, "Sending a message from the future to go change the past!" He grinned and came over and clapped a hand on my back enthusiastically as he handed me the page. My hands shook just touching it. "Aren't you clever!"

I looked at Brian.

"That's when Kevin left the band," he mumbled.

I stared back down at the page.

That's when my life shot to hell.

A searing pain went through my abdomen. And I realized that Meira probably still had my pain meds in her pocket. They were gone. Gone to the future.

"Well are you ready then?" Carl sang, dancing back to the plexiglass door and swinging it open. He waved his hands at the chair inside, holding the headset in his hands, grinning like a crazy person at me, his eyes sparkling.

I turned to Brian. My throat ached. I had so much stuff I wanted to say to him. I wanted to tell him that despite all the bullshit we'd been through he was my best friend. But I couldn't bring words to my mouth, so I just gave him a hug instead and hoped he got the message somehow.

Then there was Carl, waving me into the machine and me, stumbling up the step onto the platform, and into the chair. And there was Carl, leaning in and putting the headset over my ears and fiddling with the wire a moment and there was the door creaking shut. My eyes traveled to the spot where Meira had been and my liver ached and my hands shook and I pressed my palms to my knees and wiped away the sweat. I could feel my heart pounding a hundred thousand miles a moment. Brian put his hands on his mouth as he stared at me through the plexiglass, like I was a creature at the zoo.

I closed my eyes as the humming started above me, the sound amplified a hundred times louder than it'd sounded before from out there when Carl had sent the paper on ahead.

I could still see her - Meira, I mean - I could see the look of desperate hope in her brown eyes...

And then the drumming and I could feel it inside of me, shaking my veins and my heart and I squeezed my eyes tighter and then ---